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Case studies

The aftermath of an earthquake in Nepal

Understanding the gender inequalities of risk

11 December 2019
Woman with goats

Seventy-two year-old Bishnu Maya Dangal stands next to the pile of rubble that remains after her family home was destroyed. Photo: N. Shrestha/UN Women

Disaster mortality and numbers affected

55 percent of deaths in the 2015 earthquake were women. This is slightly higher than the percentage of women in the last national census (51 percent), though this may correspond with male emigration.  The immediate casualty impacts of the earthquake are likely driven by the higher number of women present during the earthquake; there were also reports of women delaying escape to rescue children, older family members, and valuables.

Injuries sustained by the earthquake and loss of relatives, particularly husbands or main caregivers, had a significant long term effect. One woman spoke of the impact the earthquake had on her life, after losing her husband and sustaining injuries resulting in physical disability:


My life has changed forever, and not for the best.  I will always have to live with the stigma of being a widow.  People who I thought were my friends in the village, turn away when they see me now.  They think I will bring them bad luck.  The doctors are hopeful I will be able to work unassisted someday, but four years since the earthquake, I still can’t.  This has made getting any kind of work difficult as most of he buildings here [in Kathmandu] aren’t very user-friendly for people with special needs.  Staying in the family home [in the village] is not an option anymore because it’s a hilly place and I would be totally housebound.  I worry about my son, worry about providing for him on my own.


Food security, livelihoods and malnutrition

Tourism was significantly affected by the earthquake, with hotels and accommodation severely damaged and a 90 percent decrease in the numbers of tourists. 57 percent of homestay owners in Nepal are women; they lost NPR 3.6 billion in damages and losses.   Men were more affected by damage and loss to the trekking and tour sector, losing NPR 14.3 billion.

Agriculture was also badly affected given a combination of a poor monsoon season, irrigation damage from the earthquake (15 percent irrigation schemes affected ), and reduced planting time between the earthquake and the onset of monsoon rains.

With 73 percent of women in Nepal engaged in the agricultural sector, this damage heavily affected women.  Women lost approximately NPR 15 billion, compared to men who lost NPR 10 billion in agricultural damage and loss.  In addition, 50 percent of households lost stored grain and seed and food stores were destroyed, increasing reliance on donations for food.

Displaced women lacked the food storage space in temporary housing; and crops rotted, destroying their main source of sustenance and women’s income.    Women on average were less able to recover from these losses, with lower access to savings and lower levels of education impeding employment in other sectors.


Gender Based Violence

There was no systematic recording of gender-based violence occurrence after the earthquake, but there were a large number of reports of sexual exploitation and abuse, harassment, and trafficking.   Girls were at risk of sexual violence, early and forced marriages, and trafficking.  Reports on camp facilities found only 11 percent of 82 camps had designated safe/social spaces for women and 73 percent of displacement camps lacked gender-sensitive or separate toilets and washing facilities.

There were reports of gender-based violence in temporary camps, including men entering women’s shelters and harassing them. This extended beyond the family unit.   Alcohol abuse increased the prevalence of domestic violence.   Widows were particularly at risk of receiving unwanted sexual attention and violence.

Transgender women felt exposed and unsafe in the open, temporary housing camps, surrounded by strangers who did not know them.    They were at risk of gender-based violence and experienced unwanted sexual advances.


Widows are easily identifiable in our society, and therefore become easy target. Even in non-disaster situations, majority are at the receiving end of unwanted sexual attention and violence from both extended family members and strangers. More so than other women. We have found time and again this worsens during precarious times such as earthquakes, flooding and conflict.



Access to immediate aid and support for recovery was particularly difficult for more marginalised groups such as people with disabilities, elderly people, single women, people from ethnic minority communities, and LGBTQIA+ people. Women’s representation and participation in decision making and governance is generally low in Nepal; 16.8 percent of civil service officers are women.  A lack of understanding and a lack of data on marginalised groups left these groups unconsidered and overlooked in reconstruction planning.

For example, disabled people and the elderly have limited mobility even during normal times and depend on others for support – this includes people with invisible and intellectual disabilities. Disabled people found it difficult to find alternative rental properties due to the perception that they are unreliable. Due to social stigma, disabled people do not often appear in public Nepal; this limits the understanding of disabled peoples’ needs and a lack of data directly affects who gets immediate support during a disaster and who does not.   


The stigma [of disability] is widespread and deep-rooted, the fear of being pitied and looked down upon is strong.


The LGBTQIA+ population in Nepal is estimated at 8-10% of the population; there are no disaster plans specifically for gender minorities, and there is a lack of understanding of the challenges LGBTQIA+ people face. There were instances of transgender people being refused relief aid. Providing support and awareness to transgender people is not easy; cisnormative binary gender assumptions can result in incorrect records during data collection. They are often homebound and do not engage with the community due to stigma and discrimination.   

In summary, the case study highlights the way in which data gaps actively contributed to and reinforced exclusion following the earthquake in Nepal.  Widows, women with disabilities, and the LGBTQIA+ population are particularly marginalised in Nepal, which contributed to the unequal impacts experienced after the earthquake.

This case study, was one of three collected as part of a research paper:  “The Gender and Age Inequalities of Disaster Risk” – prepared by UN Women and UNICEF.